A focus on smarter inventory purchases and changing physician habits can reap significant savings for an ASC.

  • Show doctors the difference in cost between two supply items.
  • Find people with the right skills to put in charge of handling materials and office management.
  • Reprocess rather than dispose of costly materials, if possible.

To illustrate just how a few smart changes can reap real dollar rewards, an ASC administrator explained how a materials manager convinced surgeons to cut in half the costs of shoe/boot covers.

“One pair of shoe/boot covers costs about $6 a pair and another one was about $3 a pair,” says Lianne McDowell, CASC, administrator of South Portland Surgical Center in Tualatin, OR.

The materials manager went into the surgeons’ locker room and placed the two different boot cover options and their corresponding prices on benches so physicians easily could see that one was 50% cheaper.

The surgeons were surprised to see the difference in cost and opted to try the cheaper ones, she adds.

That change, along with a number of other tactics, resulted in a $77,000 inventory cost savings from the peak inventory cost, McDowell says.

“Our case volumes have gone up, but our dollars on the shelf have gone down,” she adds.

McDowell describes the following techniques for cutting materials costs at an ASC:

  • Put the right people in the right roles. “You have good people, and then you have some people who are roadblocks to what you are trying to attain,” McDowell says. “It’s about getting the right people in the right places.”

There are some positions, like a materials manager or an office manager, where it’s difficult to find experienced professionals who also fit well with the organization’s culture. Administrators should search for a current staff member who could perform other roles well.

“I look at how people function and do their jobs, and sometimes look at their habits and skills,” McDowell says.

The ASC needed a part-time materials manager, and McDowell noticed that a radiographer handled supplies in a smart, efficient way. The employee noticed how some supplies were expired, and he questioned the efficiency of the waste.

“He showed signs of being frugal, and we liked that,” she explains. “So it became an opportunity to offer him this job, and it was a fabulous move.”

The radiographer spent about half his time on materials-managing work and brought down the center’s inventory costs by 30%, she adds.

“He took the time and had the creativity of meeting with reps and looking for cost savings,” McDowell says.

In another example, McDowell identified a clinical employee who communicated well and who could be a good fit for the business office. The employee agreed to the change and became a great fit for the role, McDowell says.

“She built spreadsheets, showing who was in network and who was out of network,” McDowell says.

The extra work on spreadsheets paid off as schedulers could see how the ASC would benefit their patients without costing them more than if they were referring patients to the hospital, she adds.

  • Develop materials-sharing relationships with other ASCs. South Portland Surgical Center has formed mutually beneficial relationships with other ASCs so that if one center needs an item, it can borrow from the other, McDowell says.

Likewise, the ASC can agree to split orders for products that have to be bought in bulk amounts, reducing costs and waste.

“Sometimes you have to buy in packs of three, so maybe one center orders them and sells one of them to another center, doing cost-sharing,” she says. “We’re actually competitors, but we’ve come to see each other as building relationships.” Be sure to confirm whether laws or rules prohibit sale of such items.

  • Use reprocessed items to reduce expenses. Some items, such as blades, shavers, and manifolds, can be sterilized and reprocessed instead of disposed, McDowell says.

“It’s cheaper reprocessing manifolds than buying new ones, and you go through a lot of them,” she says.

Any device marketed as disposable must be reprocessed by an FDA-qualified reprocessing company. If items are reusable, then hospital staff must make certain they reprocess the device according to the manufacturer’s written instructions.

  • Work as a team. “In our surgery center, it doesn’t matter what your position is because when the case comes out and the patient comes out, the team pitches in and everyone cleans up the garbage, wipes down, and mops the place,” McDowell says.

“We have good nurses, kind people, compassionate people who understand that we’re here to accomplish this goal because that’s what the surgeons and owners and non-owners need,” she explains. “We pay our staff well and treat them well with lunches, gift cards, and thank-you items and fun treats — whether it’s a barbecue day with an ice cream truck, or just ordering pizza on a busy day.”